If you are a sexually active adult, chances are you have been exposed to the herpes virus. Many people are silent carriers of the virus and will never have symptoms. But the social stigma and fear about herpes is rampant. One listener wrote to us and asked us to help break the shaming silence about genital herpes. On this episode, he joins us to share his story and shatter some of the most persistent myths about living with genital herpes.
- How you know if you have genital herpes
- How and when to tell your sexual partner that you have genital herpes
- The choice of listing your STI status in dating profiles
- Taking known risks and sexual accountability
- Why you might not know if you have herpes even if you’ve “been tested”
- How to be an ally for people with sexually transmitted infections
- How we can all work to end the social stigma of herpes and other sexually transmitted infections
We are not liscenced medical professionals, so we can not offer medical advice or diagnosis. When we receive questions about sexual health issues, we refer out to the experts in this area and recommend you see your doctor or visit a local clinic to discuss your individual sexual health needs.
Here are some resources about genital herpes. Get the facts and help end the herpes stigma that is rooted in sexual shame and sex negativity. About 1 in 6 (probably more) adults in the United States are carriers of the herpes virus. If you have had multiple sex partners, it is likely you have been exposed.
Herpes can cause painful outbreaks of sores – or lay dormant and never cause an outbreak. It may cause complications during pregnancy. The herpes virus may also lead to other diseases like cervical or anal cancer. So whether or not you’ve ever had symptoms, it is a good thing to know your status so you can better manage the risks of sex and other possible health complications. Talk to your doctor and request a blood test if you may have been exposed to the herpes virus or if you have a suspected outbreak.
Resources on Genital Herpes
Here is the email we received from Ramsey asking us to talk about the herpes stigma.
I’ve been a fan of the podcast for some time now, along with my fiancé. You’ve taken on a lot of questions that aren’t otherwise covered even in many sex positive publications and media.
The thing I see lacking in your podcast as well as every other type of sex-focused media is living, dating, relationships and sex positive information for those of us living with sexually transmitted disease. Any media that exists focuses ENTIRELY on the dangers and how to avoid STDs.
But the fact is, and statistics bear this out, a great many of us live with these conditions and are largely left on our own, without good information, and without support…without the sex positive attitude that you yourselves espouse. I won’t go into my own frustration regarding lack of medical research that leaves many of us lost and subject to the whims of “information” and “advice” gained on the Internet.
I myself have HERPES (ll) and I have “outed” myself to friends and relatives on Facebook, on standard dating sites, and in conversations because I feel it is important to educate and combat the ignorance on the topic. But it is a subject that makes people squirm, almost as if they could catch herpes from merely touching the keyboard! Hah! Some people approach me quietly to tell me they appreciated my candor and my information, while others encourage me to not broadcast so loudly about something so personal – to in a sense stuff myself back in the closet.
I find it interesting and somewhat ironic that in polite progressive social circles it is no longer socially acceptable to make lewd jokes regarding sexual orientation, but nobody seems to have a problem telling a good herpes joke, as if not one person in the room could possibly suffer the consequences of it, when in fact many do.
As I’m sure you are aware the rate of infection with herpes runs somewhere between 15 and 20% of the population (statistics vary and I won’t debate them here) though the actual percentage of people who are aware they carry the virus is much less. No health organization, including the CDC and planned parenthood, recommend testing for anyone not displaying symptoms. It’s a don’t ask don’t tell policy. That leaves most of us who know we are infected feeling even more bitter and isolated at times.
Dating websites for people with STDs are pathetic in general, and most support organizations run virtually underground to avoid the stigma. This seems the perfect opportunity for those sex educators such as yourselves to step forward into the brink and bring real information, real research, real anecdotal experience to the population at large, many of whom are suffering in silence, overwhelmed by the stigma. This is a topic that needs a sex positive, educational, real world, perspective. It is my deep hope that those such as yourselves who have access to media can really bring this information to the people, educate the uninformed, and support the millions of people who deal with this issue and similar in their relationships and in their everyday lives.
I challenge you to take this on, to take on the social stigma, to take on the misinformation, to challenge the silence, to challenge the ignorance, and provide sex positive, people positive, genuinely useful tools for those of us who suffer the harshness of the stigma, those who often love us, and those who simply aren’t aware what we experience. For myself, there is simply no end to the irony that many of those same people that mock, joke, or are silent out of fear, are themselves silent carriers of the same virus that has had such a profound affect on my life.
In another twist to my own story, I have never had an outbreak. I had a long term relationship with someone who carried the virus and suffered outbreaks. When the relationship ended I decided to get tested, despite my lack of outbreaks and despite my doctors best efforts to talk me out of it. (Did I even get it from this person…maybe not. I was sexually active with multiple partners for many years after my divorce before I met this person. Any one person could’ve carried the virus that I might have carried silently from that day forward ) Would I make the same choice given the chance to go back in time? Maybe not. But I did. And here I am. And I won’t be kept in the dark and I won’t be silent.
It would be great if you could help me bring light to the darkness and provide the kind of sex positive information on this topic as you do so many others. Yes, obviously it’s something to be avoided if possible. But it’s not the end of the world, however one might feel at any given time after the diagnosis . And healthy self-image goes a long way towards a fulfilling and fabulous sex life with great, understanding partners. So this is my soapbox, and this is me shouting out Into the void! Sincere thanks for all you do, Ramsey
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